More information than ever before about the lavish spending of King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of impoverished Swaziland, has been made public (outside the kingdom) in recent weeks, raising questions about where the money comes from.
Now, Swazi Media Commentary turns a spotlight on the amount of international development aid the kingdom receives and how this helps divert funds away from much needed work to help the poor and disadvantaged and towards the Swazi Royal Family.
In April 2018 at a party to mark both his 50th birthday and the anniversary of Swaziland's Independence from Great Britain, King Mswati wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit weighing 6 kg studded with diamonds. Days earlier he had taken delivery of his second private jet. This one, an Airbus A340, cost US$13.2 to purchase but with VIP upgrades was estimated to have cost US$30 million.
Meanwhile, seven in ten of the population estimated at 1.1 million people live in abject poverty on incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day.
In 2017, the global charity Oxfam named Swaziland as the most unequal country in the world in a report called Starting With People, a human economy approach to inclusive growth in Africa detailing the differences in countries between the top most earners and those at the bottom. The Oxfam report stated the government, which is handpicked by King Mswati, 'failed to put measures in place to tackle inequality, with poor scores for social spending and progressive taxation, and a poor record on labour rights'.
In a report in May 2017, the World Food Program estimated 350,000 people of Swaziland's population were in need of food assistance. WFP helped 65,473 of them. It said it was regularly feeding 52,000 orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) aged under eight years at neighbourhood care points. About 45 percent of all children in Swaziland are thought to be OVCs. It reported chronic malnutrition affected 26 percent of all children in Swaziland aged under five.
While his subjects go hungry King Mswati and his family live lavish lifestyles. He has 13 palaces and fleets of expensive cars. He and his 13 wives and children wear watches worth tens of thousands of dollars each. His wives regularly take international shopping trips costing millions of dollars. Meanwhile, Swaziland takes money from overseas to fund its development projects, many of them directed at the poorest people in the kingdom.
Between 2011 and 2015 Swaziland took US$507 million (E6.24 billion) in external assistance from other countries. Of this, US$140 million came from the United States (28 percent of the total) and US$123 million from the European Union (24 percent of the total). Other main donors were Taiwan (US$74 million) and the United Nations (US$59 million).
Combined, the total external assistance accounted for 17.6 percent of Swaziland's domestic revenue. The EU's assistance covers a range of areas, including education, health, water and sanitation among others. The US only assists in areas of health. The health sector receives the largest amount of aid, followed by agriculture and infrastructure.
A report written by Klaus Stig Kristensen and published by Afrika Kontakt (Africa Contact) in 2017 stated, 'The EU and US finance these sectors, freeing up funds for the government of Swaziland to spend on an unnecessary defence/security sector that consumes an increasing amount of the national budget.
'They thereby alleviate funds for the government of Swaziland to be spent on vanity capital projects [such as the King Mswati III International Airport] and unnecessary defence that consumes an increasing amount of the national budget.
'If sustainable socio-economic development is to take place in Swaziland, it is essential that the government of Swaziland takes the lion's share of the responsibility and prioritizes its budget accordingly.'
The report stated that in Swaziland almost 6 percent of the national budget is spent on the Royal Family and 12.4 percent on the security sector, while only 3.3 percent is spent on agriculture, 'the engine that is supposed to pull the rural population out of poverty'. It added, 'This is a strange budget prioritization considering that the majority of Swazis live below the poverty line.
In the March 2018, the budget for the Royal Family spending (the civil list) was increased by E1 million to E394 million. At the same time value added tax (VAT) was increased by 1 percent. Local media did not comment on the King's increase but did report the budget as an attack on the poor.
King Mswati's personal spending also diverts money away from much-needed development.
The sources of the King's income are kept secret from the Swazi people. In 2009, Forbes magazine estimated that the King himself had a personal net fortune worth US$200 million. Forbes also said King Mswati was the beneficiary of two funds created by his father Sobhuza II in trust for the Swazi nation. During his reign, he has absolute discretion over use of the income. The trust has been estimated to be worth US$10 billion.
The King also holds 25 percent of all mining royalties in Swaziland 'in trust' for the Swazi nation.
In August 2014 the Sunday Times newspaper in South Africa reported King Mswati personally received millions of dollars from international companies such as phone giant MTN; sugar conglomerates Illovo and Remgro; Sun International hotels and beverages firm SAB Millerto.
It reported that MTN, which had a monopoly of the cell phone business in Swaziland at the time, paid dividends directly to the King. He holds 10 percent of the shares in MTN in Swaziland and is referred to by the company as an 'esteemed shareholder'. It said MTN had paid E114 million (US$11.4 million at the then exchange rate) to the King over the previous five years.
The newspaper also reported that the King was receiving income from Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, a conglomerate he controls 'in trust for the Swazi nation', which paid dividends in 2013 of E218.1 million. The newspaper reported 'several sources' who said it was 'an open secret' that although money generated by Tibiyo was meant to be used for the benefit of the nation, Tibiyo in fact channelled money directly to the Royal Family.
In 2016, Tibiyo paid dividends of E188.5 million and had assets valued at E1.8 billion. Tibiyo TakaNgwane investments include Dalcrue Agricultural Holdings, Inyoni Yami Swaziland Insurance, Royal Swaziland Sugar Corporation, Ubombo Sugar Limited, Bhunu Mall, Nedbank Swaziland, Simunye Plaza, The Swazi Observer, Tibiyo Properties, Maloma Colliery, Parmalat Swaziland, Swaziland Beverages and Swazi Spa Holdings.
Earlier in May 2018, Lucky Ndlovu, the Deputy Prime Minister's Office Director of Children Services, revealed that Neighbourhood Care Points (NCP) that feed the hungry across Swaziland were short of food because donations were drying up.
The Sunday Observer reported Ndlovu saying, 'There is a lack of support from those who used to supply the food. Most of the support was from international donors who are now focussing on other countries which are not classified as middle income countries.'
He added, donors believed Swaziland had enough money but it was not being directed towards the poor.
'Government must come up with programmes that are pro-poor because the international community is now not willing to support us,' he said.